The Other Havana: Cuba Libre Photographs by Michael Dweck

By R.M. Schneiderman

The text said "PMM" — por un mundo mejor (for a better world) — then offered a time and a place. And so on a sweltering evening in 2009, Michael Dweck, an American photographer who had traveled to Havana with vague notions of a photo project, went with a friend to a dark house on the outskirts of the city. Officially there is no priviledged class in Cuba. But what Dweck saw ran counter to both the Communist Party line and the American narrative of old cars and crumbling buildings: more than 100 of Cuba's most talented artists, models, and musicians, some with iPhones and Prada dresses, were dancing by a pool near the ocean. "It was kind of like a Paris salon from the 30s," Dweck says.

Over the course of more than a year, Dweck returned, capturing the artists as they worked in their studios, rode in their cars, and partied at night. The result: Habana Libre, a seductive look at Cuba's creative elite —the men and women who, with state support, can travel abroad and experience a level of freedom that most in Cuba cannot. Now, 50 years after the American embargo began, as the government is dabbling with private ownership, it is also permitting Dweck to display his portraits at an exhibit that opens in Havana on Feb. 24. Doing so appears to be a tacit acknowledgment that inequality exists, but it is also a way to put the country's best face forward. "There is an essence of sophistication and surprising elegance [in Cuba] that nobody knows about," Dweck says. There is also considerable poverty, which is why Dweck is supplying lightbulbs for his own event.

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